Photo: Michael B. Dougherty
With temps in the teens, and some unexpected snow on the ground, Knob Creek introduced the world to its first single-barrel reserve bottling right at the source, the Jim Beam distillery in Clermont, Kentucky.
A group gathered around seven-generation master distiller, Fred Noe, in one of the distillery's barrel houses, a plank-and-beam structure notable for its 20,000 casks of quietly aging bourbon, and on this particular morning, a distinct lack of heating or insulation. Noe, who traces his lineage back to Colonel Jim Beam himself (the man wasn't a marketing invention), carefully siphoned liquid out of several individually selected American white-oak casks to illustrate the distinction between Knob Creek and Knob Creek Single Barrel. Whereas the former is a blend and bottled at 100 proof, the latter is bottled directly from a single, "sweet" barrel, after being cut down to 120 proof (cask strength is around 130). The effect is an intriguing inconsistency in style that makes opening a bottle something of a throw at the roulette wheel. Of the four barrels we sampled, each had a distinctive profile that sometimes varied dramatically: Beyond the expected vanilla, wood and sweet notes, one skewed more towards a lighter, floral style while another had an unusually sharp, rye-like bite of spice.